I recently got a phone call from an audio-video company that I had never heard of. The executive on the phone had just read my review of the Nakymatone Etch "invisible" speaker system
and wanted to reach out to say thanks for my enthusiasm for the category, since they also make an invisible speaker system. If I knew what I know now about the performance and look of invisible speakers back when I remodeled my house, I wouldn't have used any traditional in-wall or in-ceiling speakers at all. Yes, there is a performance delta between traditional in-ceilings and invisible speakers, but it's not a big delta at all, and the appeal of a speaker that literally blends into the wall or ceiling is just too much to resists, especially when a drywall subcontractor and painter are already on the schedule to come to your place.
But you know what? Invisible speakers aren't even my favorite speakers at my place. Hell, I am going to go out on a limb and say my beloved Focal Sopra N°2s aren't at the top of the heap. The system that I enjoy the most these days is my outdoor speaker system. Who would have imagined? Using a Crestron 24x8 SWAMP amp/controller for distributed music, paired with a really cool Sonance multi-channel digital amp, Simply Home Entertainment was able to design a really rocking 8.2 speaker system around my pool using small, aimable Episode speakers paired with two 12-inch buried outdoor speakers. This configuration allows me to dial in any number of audio sources (almost always an Autonomics streamer for Pandora, Spotify, Tidal, or Sirius) and then custom tune the levels for each channel around my pool so that my family and I can enjoy dynamic music with deep bass without the "pool at the Hard Rock Hotel effect," where someone just cranks up the tunes by the pool to 110 dB and lets it rip. The effect by my pool is much more controlled and enjoyable, plus I play a lot less EDM and I banned hipsters and/or any Millennials with more than four tattoos from my pool (local rules, sorry).
As a secondary zone of outdoor audio, we installed a pair of speakers in the soffit of my pool cabana. These speakers beam down from above at a slight angle and reinforce the sound for my BBQ island, which is rocking a 42-inch Wolf grill, a Wolf burner, and a custom-built Mugnaini wood burning pizza oven. The pizza oven is a fun toy and a refreshing relief from a mostly digital existence in my everyday life. We are selling our house now, but will almost assuredly install another Mugnaini oven when we buy another house. We will also reinforce the area with plenty of good sound capable of taking my abuse as well as enduring the close-to-the-ocean elements.
My former speakers in this location died a miserable death at my own careless hands. There is nobody to blame but me here, and I should have known better, but emotions got the best of me as the teenaged kid next door wanted to have a battle of wannabe hip-hop music versus my system. I dialed in Sirius-XM's "Liquid Metal" and let loose with some of the finest, loudest, and most grating death metal.
While I inevitably won said senseless and immature audio battle, I realized later that had blown the living hell out of my past speakers. But on the upside, that gave me an opportunity to review a new, hopefully more-idiot-proof outdoor speakers. Enter the $698.00 per pair Paradigm Stylus 470 speakers in white.
These speakers are a standard rectangle with dimensions of 12.65 by 8.875 by 8.75 inches (hwd). They weigh a little over 10 pounds and are easily mountable and adjustable. They are built of UV-resistant Polyglass, which seemed like plastic to me. but upon further digging seems to be better designed to weather tough seasonality's and/or the challenges of living near the sea. The speakers are a two-way design, complete with a 25mm titanium tweeter and a 190mm bass driver that comes with a reported low frequency response of 50 Hz, which isn't too bad as I don't have subs in this zone of my outdoor rig.
Installation was pretty much a snap. The speaker cables were already there. The corpses of my old speakers went to Staples for e-waste recycling. The new speakers went up in minutes thanks to a fully powered cordless drill and a little neck-wrenching. Make sure you've got your leads attached correctly and you aren't more than about 10 to 15 minutes away from rocking outside.
The standard for outdoor speaker listening for me is a little different in that an audiophile speaker like the Paradigm Monitor SE 6000F Floorstanding Speakers I recently reviewed. These speakers aren't really being judged on traditional factors like imaging. How well they disperse sound seems more relevant. Do the speakers have an even tone? Do they have any reasonable bass? The answers here are: pretty darn good, yes, and surprisingly another yes.
Most of my listening in this venue is done when I am on the phone sitting outside. The volume is low, but I still can enjoy some groovy tunes while yapping. I spent a few hours without the phone (hard to believe) listening to all sorts of music, ranging from low-res Pandora to CD-quality AIFF tracks. On the Bebel Gilberto-curated channel on Pandora, I politely jammed some saucy Brazilian tracks that were both vintage in recording as well as state of the art. At one point, "Blue Rondo à la Turk" popped up and sounded pretty engaging. Thievery Corporation, AIR and others from the more modern lounge genre also sounded lively but never too forward. They had good bass, but not anything that's going to rock your world. If you want to really bump outside, you are going to need a subwoofer, and these Paradigm Stylus 470s would gladly pair with a sub if your installation and budget would allow for it.
Considering my past story about torture testing (and killing) my last speakers in this part of my system, I cranked up James Brown's "Cold Sweat" at CD resolution and hit the audio accelerator. The walking bass line was clearly articulated, and the horns shined behind the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, but never over-shadowed the overall musical performance.
Next, I went to "Highway to Hell" by AC/DC and dug deeper for even more volume. In full Bon Scott glory, I blasted the kings-of-three-chords at levels that should make all my neighbors hate me even more. The Angus Young solo has a grungy excellence, and you could really hear the humbuckers on his Gibson SG but they never sounded too shrill as you might hear from an outdoor commercial system at the local sports bar. The Paradigms are much more refined than that, and that's what $700 gets you versus less expensive speakers.
Comparison and Competition
Revel has a number of audiophile grade outdoor speakers from their Extreme Climate line ranging from $600 to $900 per pair that are very worthy of consideration. I've heard them sound very good on noisy tradeshow floors. They also have matching buried subwoofer options.
Klipsch has a similar-looking product at about $550 per pair in the AW-650. A lower cost option comes from Polk Audio in the Atrium 6 speakers at a very fair price of $399 per pair. Although a little different in configuration, the $249.00 Definitive Technology AW6500 speaker could be an option for someone looking for outdoor speakers in this form factor.
Outdoor audio is where it's at, assuming you live in a friendly climate. The concept of sitting in an audiophile room with your head in a vice is fine--especially in the winter, or in the summer if you live in the south. But when the weather is good, a truly great outdoor speaker can transform your outdoor environment. Great music sounds just as good outside, and even better when shared with friends and family.
The Paradigm Stylus 470s fit my needs and budget nicely. They aren't cheapie products by any means, but they provide me hours upon hours of pretty refined musical enjoyment outside, where I escape from my Macbook Pro to enjoy a cool tune and a warm ocean breeze. I couldn't be happier with these outdoor speakers in my outdoor audio rig.